Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exploring Cordoba Capital

It’s been a week and a half since we moved from the rambunctious life in New York City to the more tranquil province of Cordoba. In that time, we’ve been slowly exploring our neighborhood, and the city, a piece at a time. Fortunately, our parents have been invaluable guides on our journey. So, I started out by checking out the stores that are within walking distance.
Checking out the local supermarkets was our first step. The markets are of the same standards as those in the United States. One of the markets, Hyper Libertad is equivalent to a Walmart (Cordoba has a couple of Walmarts, but I still haven’t gone to one as of this post). It has everything you'd expect to find like electronics, a limited selection of DVDs, music, toys, exercise equipment, hardware, furniture, clothing, and obviously food. 

There are at least two DVD rental stores in the nearby area as well as various restaurants, which offer pizza, pasta, steak, chicken and pastries. You can buy just about anything here, except for some of the food items we'd grown accustomed to like Eggo Waffles, bacon, Pizza Pockets, or Hormel's Chili. But one  thing I have noticed is that food is very affordable, at least for now. There are also several coffee shops (similar to a cafĂ© in Europe), most of which offer wi-fi.  

Tipping in Argentina isn't as common as it is in the United States. Around here, you can give your local barber or taxi driver $2 Argentinian Pesos (equivalent to a few U.S. cents) and you’ll find that the locals will not only be shocked, but grateful. Unfortunately, you have to watch out for beggars. They're everywhere and annoying. Sometimes they'll hold a door open as you get out of a cab, or you hail a taxi, and you find yourself having to pay them a few cents or a peso just to get rid of them. 

I also went to a barbershop near my home the other day, and got my haircut for $12 Pesos (Equivalent to $3 US Dollars + $2 pesos in tip). It might not seem like a big deal, but I went by myself, and believe me, doing anything in Argentina for the first time can be very intimidating. 
A few days later, my mother took us to the mall near Nueva Cordoba called Patio Olmos. It used to be a school, but was later donated and turned into a shopping center. It has four levels. Aside from clothing and shoe stores, Patio Olmos has a movie theater called Hoyt, which offers the latest American film releases. You can either watch them in 3D or regular 2D. You can even watch movies in English with Spanish subtitles, or dubbed in Spanish.  

On the third level is where the food court is and … WAIT FOR IT! A McDonald’s and a Burger King!!!! Alright, call me a sentimental idiot, but when I saw those two fast food restaurants in the food court I felt a little homesick, and at the same time, a little relieved. McD’s and Burger King were two of my favorite fast food joints in the States. Seeing them reminded me of a scene from “Not Without My Daughter”, where Sally Fields is trying to escape from Iran with her daughter, and at the end of the movie, she sees an American flag from the U.S. Embassy and smiles. Well, that's how I felt. Then again, I only left the U.S. a week and a half ago, so sue me for being overly emotional. Now back to the mall. On the fourth level is a bowling alley and several arcades and children’s area. But I don't know if I'll ever be interested in bowling, and I'm a little too old for arcade games.  

Not too far from the mall is a vast shopping area, which spans several blocks. It's breathtaking to see, and I’m not sure I can describe it all in one entry. So, I’ll save the full description for a future post. I will tell you that there are several clothing stores, bookstores, restaurants, plazas and a huge crowd of people. 
El Centro near Plaza San Martin
Plaza San Martin
Argentine Flag in Plaza San Martin
Tour Bus stops by Plaza San Martin
Nueva Cordoba - Outside of Patio Olmos Shopping Center
From Patio Olmos, you can pretty much walk around anywhere you'd like in downtown. It costs less than 30 pesos to get Patio Olmos or Nueva Cordoba in general, and another 30 pesos to get back by taxi (That’s the total equivalent of $10 U.S. dollars round trip).  

After we got home, my spouse and I decided to order a pizza, but then we realized that neither of us had an Argie cell phone service provider, or a phone line installed. So, we had to walk over to the nearest pizzeria and ordered a large mozzarella pizza (known as muzzarella here), and a large order of fries. It cost us $38 pesos ($6.50 U.S. Dollars). My spouse didn’t like the pizza because of the olives they put on top of it, and the overpowering cheesy smell, but I thought it was okay. The fries were hot and crunchy too.  

It might not seem like we did a lot, but I think we’ve taken a couple of big steps in the right direction. We've ventured out and explored some areas of Cordoba. I'm sure that there's more waiting for us out there. The currency, customs and language are still a bit of a challenge for us, but you know something? I think we're going to be alright.  

Meeting My Long Lost Argentine Relatives

(I'm the one on the far right)
I hadn’t even made it halfway through my first week in Argentina when my mother informed me that three of my cousins had planned a family dinner to get to know me. Now, let me tell you a bit about myself. I've suffered from social anxiety since I was a child. I'm a total mess during social functions. So, when my mom told me I was meeting these strangers, I almost had a heart attack. 

The only two people I vividly remember before I left Argentina when I was 5 are my maternal grandmother and my uncle Luis. Sadly, she died about 12 years ago from natural causes, and he died in a tragic bus accident at the age of 40. I never even met these people before, or if I had, I don't remember them. Now these so-called family members wanted to get to know me as if I was their version of a celebrity, and I was very nervous about the upcoming reunion.
 Growing up, my parents and I kept to ourselves. We didn’t really have a group of friends coming over on Friday night, or family visiting us during the holiday, because we were living thousands of miles away. So, I learned to accept this anti-social way of living, even after I moved out on my own. As a result, I had a hard time socializing with new people. Now I’m back in the country of my birth after a 35-year absence, and thirteen people are anxious to meet me, except that all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide. 

First impressions can be fatal, especially when you come from another country with a different way of thinking and talking. Yes, people speak Spanish in the States, but the Spanish spoken by Cubans and Puerto Ricans, two cultures that were highly prominent in South Florida where I grew up, are worlds apart from Argentine Castilian. This was something I had learned over the last few days when I tried interacting with the locals at convenient stores and supermarkets. Add to that the fact that I rarely spoke Spanish when I lived in the States, except with my parents. My friends, my classmates, my teachers, my co-workers, my bosses, all spoke English regardless of their nationality. Well, there might have been two or three exceptions, but I'm digressing here.  The point is, that I was really nervous about saying the wrong thing and embarrassing myself.

Then, the night I was dreading had finally arrived! My cousin, Vani was the first person I met, but we had written to each other through e-mail for several months before my big move to Argentina. I was also introduced to her son, who’s adorable. About half an hour later, my cousin, Sandy and her husband arrived with their son. Then, my cousin Hugh and his wife arrived with their teenage kids. They were delightful people. Within moments, I felt like I’d known them for years. 
At first, I had some trouble explaining things to them in Spanish, especially when they asked me to explain to them what life was like in the States. I could tell there was some confusion from the expressions on their faces, but they understood me for the most part. What I loved the most about my family is that they were very welcoming to my spouse. He's the one in the red shirt.  Then, right before we ate, we received a standing ovation at the dinner table, which felt great! 
In the States, I didn't have family, except for my spouse. Children seemed out of the question since we talked about it to death, and we couldn't agree on adoption or a biological child through a surrogate. Being a parent is still a dream for me, but in life and in marriage, you learn to compromise. However, I felt a bit sad, thinking that my bloodline would end with me. Then I met my cousins, and their children, and realized that the bloodline is alive and kicking, so that's one less burden off my shoulders.  

I just hope that this newfound family will fill the emptiness that I've felt my entire life.